“Christ is King”

A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

November 22, 2020

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the

earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those

who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people

everywhere may seek after you and find you, bring the nations

into your fold, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, and hasten

the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,

now and forever. Amen.

Hashem Melech, Hashem Malach, Hashem Yimloch

Hashem melech, (The LORD is King)

Hashem malach (The LORD was King),

Hashem yimloch (The LORD will be King)

le-olam va-ed (Forever and Ever)

Ahalell Hashem Elokim (I will praise the LORD G-d)

ve-agadlenu be-toda (and will make him great with gratitude)

Ahalell Hashem (I will praise the LORD G-d)

Elokim ve-agadlenu be-toda (and will make him great with gratitude)

Yod ve’He ve’Vav ve’He ve’ (YHWH)

Hashem elokeinu Hashem echad (The LORD our G-d, the LORD is one)

Yod ve’He ve’Vav ve’He ve’ (YHWH)

Hashem elokeinu Hashem echad (The LORD our G-d, the LORD is one)

Hashem melech, (The LORD is King)

Hashem malach, (The LORD was King),

Hashem yimloch (The LORD will be King)

le-olam va-ed (Forever and Ever)

Most of us probably do not pay too much attention to greetings—formal or informal. Though we might give some thought to how we want to greet someone who is important. We will probably want to find out what title we ought to use in addressing them. And, if we ever have the occasion to be presented to a reigning sovereign, we may well want to practice our bow or curtsy!

Each time we gather to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we begin with a greeting and a response. We probably have just taken it for granted. After all, it seems so routine and normal that we do not even think about it unless—to our surprise—the Rector decides to change it for Advent, for Lent, or for Easter! Then we make sure that we have the bulletin at hand so that we do not say the wrong thing!

I did a bit of research and discovered that the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, and even the Anglican Church of Scotland all currently use some version of “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The Orthodox Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, begins “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”

In true Anglican fashion, the Episcopal Church chose to “split the difference,” and to routinely use this form: “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be God’s kingdom, now and forever. Amen.”

Whatever else one might say about John Chrysostom, and, sadly,he is known to have said some very mean things in some of his writings—and even in some of his sermons, about women and Jews, and others—when it came to liturgy, he made every effort to make use of prayers which may have, in fact, been used by the Primitive Church and by Judaism.

For instance, the introduction or greeting which he used to begin the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, appears to be taken, in large part, from the “berakah” or Jewish prayer of blessing. Almost all of the most  important Jewish prayers of thanksgiving or blessing begin with these words, “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam,” or “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, Ruler of the Universe.” Of course, there is a shift in emphasis, from “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God,” to “Blessed is the Kingdom of God,” and then the Patriarch of Constantinople goes on to spell out who he understands the Triune God to be.

We are a nation born in Revolution—we fought a war for our Independence—to escape from the perceived tyranny of George III and the House of Hanover. Thus, we are not really accustomed to hearing talk of “Kings,” and “monarchies.” Ironically, the very language which we use to speak of church buildings and structures contain remaining traces of that kind of language, though.

In Greek, the word for King was “basileos.” The palace in which the king lived, or the hall in which the king’s throne was found was called a basilikē. The Romans and, later the Christian Church, borrowed the word and translated it into the Latin word “basilica.” The basilica was the house, or the hall, in which the Church met or gathered for worship. It ceased to be a king’s house and became a house for the church, also known as the “domus ecclesiae,”—the “church-house.”

It seems to me, that the most helpful way to think of the Feast of Christ the King, Christ the Sovereign, Christ the Ruler, is to think of it as the Feast of Christ as head of the gathered community of faith—Jesus, the Christ (the anointed one, the Messiah of Israel), as Shepherd of the flock of the People of God. After all, today’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31-46) speaks of “sheep” and “goats!”

We use this Feast to conclude our Liturgical Year. It provides us with the opportunity to look back and to evaluate. What has this year of Grace been like for us as a community of faith? Have we accomplished the tasks and the goals with which we began last Advent? It also provides us with a challenge. Next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new Liturgical Year. What will our priorities be? What will we need to do to faithfully respond to the invitation of Jesus to become “Beloved Community?”

It seems entirely appropriate that at this “liminal moment” in which we end the old liturgical year and prepare to begin the new one, that our Lectionary shares with us the “Last Judgement Message” of our Lord, taken from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Imagine that it is like an inaugural speech. In it, Jesus lays out the values, priorities, and goals of the Reign of God, of the Beloved Community. I hope that we really are shocked, but also motivated and inspired, by the items on the agenda which is given to us.

What does it mean to be Beloved Community? According to Jesus it means

  • Feeding and caring for the hungry and thirsty
  • Welcoming the stranger, the alien, the foreigner, the outsider, the “other”
  • Clothing the naked, the homeless, the poor
  • Caring for the sick (whether physically, mentally, or spiritually)
  • Visiting prisoners (and any others who are institutionalized)

There are no words about accumulating wealth, gaining power and control, denominational growth and expansion, or even evangelizing! These are not abstract principles or theories. They are concrete directives. Choosing to do them means happiness, brings joy, and blessing. Failing to carry out these commands brings sadness, alienation, and loss.

If we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord, Master, Ruler, King, Shepherd—or whatever term we find meaningful—we must choose to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us. If we have failed to do that to the best of our ability this past year—as individuals, or collectively—there is good news. It is not too late. As we are reminded elsewhere, “This is the acceptable time, this is the day of salvation.”

The lovely hymn with which I began this Sermon today reminds us “God is King, God was King, God will be King, forever and ever. Amen.” May we heed the call of God our King to make God’s love real and present in the lives of those whom God has entrusted to our care.

If we choose to accept God’s  invitation to be transformed into Beloved Community; by caring for the hungry and the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners, we will become a source of blessing. Our actions, carried out with love, will bless God. And the church-house, the little “basilica” where we gather as a community of faith will be filled with the very presence of Jesus the Christ, Jesus our King, Jesus our Shepherd. He is present in Word, in Sacrament, and in each person who is marked as Christ’s own forever and is welcomed into the household of faith.

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